Another Look At Managerial Stability

With half of the clubs in the nPower Championship having replaced their manager at least once since June last year, it’s time to revisit this post from October 2010.

After the recent outbreak of  ‘sack the manager’ I’ve got to admit that quite frankly I’ve got no idea what some of these clubs are trying to achieve. I’m happy to accept poor results as a good reason for getting rid of the gaffer: if a bigger club comes in for a successful manager (or a smaller club comes in for an unhappy one – see Eddie Howe) that’s fine too. However, far too many of the recent moves seem to be based on questionable boardroom decisions.

Then there’s Watford, which I’ll come to later: there’s also Michael Appleton, but a consensus seems to be emerging that no-one in their right mind would want the Blackpool job – which is why Appleton and Ian Holloway have both left this season. What happened to Nick Barmby at Hull seems to have been a matter of internal discipline more than anything else and doesn’t fit into the overall picture.

In the poor results corner, we have Barnsley, Bristol City and Ipswich. They needed to replace Keith Hill, Derek McInnes and Paul Jewell respectively because their records were poor and all three clubs felt they needed a change in order to avoid relegation. However, Bristol City in particular have a recent track record of managerial turmoil: since the end of the 2008/09 season, they’ve had five managers, none of whom lasted either a full season or had any previous managerial experience at this level. However, although it could be argued that Bolton and Wolves fall into this category, I’m placing them in another.

In the ‘replacement due to recruitment’ group we have Birmingham, Burnley and Crystal Palace. Lee Clarke is presiding over a poor season at St Andrew’s but Sean Dyche and Ian Holloway are all doing fine at the moment.

Which brings us on to ‘questionable decisions at boardroom level’, which is exemplified by Blackburn and Nottingham Forest but which also contains Bolton and Wolves. You’ll notice immediately that the three clubs that were relegated from the Premier League last season are in this group: although it’s not unreasonable to dismiss a manager following relegation, it’s verging on the ridiculous to get rid of him because either:

(a) you think you should be undefeated at the top of the table at the end of September either because you’ve underestimated the level of competition in the Championship and/or you have assumed you’ll win promotion immediately (Steve Kean at Blackburn and Owen Coyle at Bolton)

(b) you made a questionable decision in the first place (Stale Solbakken at Wolves or Henning Berg at Blackburn, but with Nottingham Forest before the Al Hasawi takeover not far behind)

(c) for no discernible reason whatsoever (Nottingham Forest since the Al Hasawi takeover )

The most intriguing change of the lot has been at Watford. Sean Dyche did a great job in Hertfordshire last season, but when the Pozzo family took over at Vicarage Road, Dyche had to go. It seemed unfair at the time, but subsequent results under Gianfranco Zola has made the ‘Watford Project’ one of the Championship stories of the season. Other clubs have had a substantial foreign involvement at both board and managerial level, but the key difference between Watford and both Forest and Blackburn is that it’s obvious the Pozzos know what they’re doing.

At the other end of the scale, we have the likes of Cardiff City, Millwall and Peterborough. Cardiff are currently eight points clear at the top of the Championship, having only had three managers since they were promoted almost a decade ago: Kenny Jackett is the longest serving manager in the competition and currently has Millwall in a good position for a playoff run and despite an awful start to the season. There are some encouraging signs that Darren Ferguson may be the first manager in Peterborough history to keep them in the second tier of English football for three consecutive seasons.

Just three games to get excited about this weekend, but for a change at least one of them is on TV. Middlesbrough and Leicester (Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm) are only separated by goal difference, although to be fair, the Foxes have the best goal difference in the competition.

Leicester’s strength is their home form – they’ve only lost three times at the King Power Stadium since last April – and after tonight’s game they’ll only have two more matches against sides in the current top six. They’re on course for a play off place at the very least, but aren’t out of the race for automatic promotion by any means and with Chris Wood on fire since Christmas (five goals in three games including a first half hat trick at Bristol City last Saturday) a return to the Premier League could be on. On the other hand, Middlesbrough have struggled away from home recently: four defeats in their last five and an increasingly leaky defence could undermine any promotion hopes in the long term, but Lukas Jutkiewicz is worth keeping an eye on in case the hosts have an off day.

The other games that caught my eye are at London Road and Portman Road but before I go any further, I’d like to point out that there’s been a sending off in all of the last four games between Derby and Nottingham Forest (1:00pm Saturday). Hull have won their last two games at Peterborough, but Posh won at the KC Stadium at the end of September and with three wins in their last six, Darren Ferguson’s side look as if they won’t go down without a fight – they’ve not failed to score in a league game since the end of November and The Tigers have only kept one clean sheet in their last six away games.

Ipswich take on Barnsley in a game that’s not really a relegation six pointer, but David Flitcroft was appointed Barnsley manager earlier this week and the Tykes will be out to impress him. However, Portman Road isn’t a happy hunting ground for the team from South Yorkshire: since the turn of the century they’ve only won there once and have failed to score in four of their last five visits.

Finally this week, the FA Cup 4th round has been clarified and – for once – it’s possible that at least four Championship teams can reach the last sixteen. There are three guaranteed places and although it’s not impossible, Aldershot winning at Middlesbrough is unlikely. However, with four teams facing Premier League clubs with home advantage, another shock could be on the cards: with only one league game that could have an impact at either end of the table next weekend (Bristol City v Ipswich), I’ll take a closer look at FA Cup next week.

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Michael Appleton Leaves Blackpool, Joins Blackburn

I’m desperately trying to think of another situation like this, but the only one I can come up with is Steve Bruce’s whirlwind romances with Wigan, Crystal Palace and Birmingham just over a decade ago.

Appleton’s appointment at Ewood Park after less than 90 days after joining Blackpool is an interesting one to say the least. I’m not sure if Venky’s and their ‘global advisor’ Shebby Singh realise that they’re actually running a real club or if they think they’re starring in some kind of reality show based on one of the many football management simulations out there. One thing I’m fairly sure of is that Appleton is being paid a lot more at Blackburn than he was at Blackpool. But for what exactly? Appleton’s won nothing as a manager: 15 wins in 63 games doesn’t really reek of success and there’s only so many times you can dump a club after less than a year before people won’t trust you.

I wasn’t planning on paying too much attention to tonight’s game (Blackburn are playing at Wolves – Sky Sports 1, 7:45pm) as it looks like one of those matches that the Sky Sports planners thought looked good at the time, but is a fairly routine clash between two out of form clubs in the bottom half of the Championship that have got new managers. Instead I’ll be back tomorrow with a more comprehensive preview.

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Cardiff Win Christmas And Probably The Championship Too

Hands up again. I thought Cardiff would find their Christmas fixture list difficult but maximum points from their three games as well as a win at Leicester meant they became the first team since Wolves in 2009 to top the table at the start of the year with more than 50 points and have established the biggest lead at the start of January since 2006, when Reading were ten points ahead of Sheffield United. Both Wolves and Reading finished champions at the end of those seasons.

Leicester and Middlesbrough kept their respective promotion challenges going with two wins in three games, but Crystal Palace only managed one win over the holiday period and have fallen nine points behind Cardiff: I tend not to pay much attention to the transfer rumour mill, but if Manchester United are genuinely interested in Wilfred Zaha, any move could be detrimental to the Eagles automatic promotion hopes.

At the bottom, Peterborough managed to drag themselves out of the bottom three since the end of October with wins over Wolves and Barnsley but with the bottom four clubs separated by only four points there’s still a lot to play for. Bristol City had their Boxing Day game with Watford postponed due to the torrential rain that’s been plagued the West Country and the Robins now have a game in hand that could be vital in the long run.

The only teams to draw a complete blank over the holidays were Wolves – who scored once, conceded eight times, and have now lost four of their last five games – and bottom of the table Barnsley. After a week which saw managerial changes at both Blackburn and Nottingham Forest because their respective owners seem to be suffering from delusions of grandeur rather than for footballing reasons, Keith Hill’s dismissal following the Tykes home defeat by Blackburn last Saturday was much more prosaic. Barnsley weren’t very good last season – although to be fair to Hill the Tykes were never in the bottom three – and haven’t been any better in the first half of 2012/13: one win in the last fourteen league games and finishing the year in last place was enough to convince the powers that be at Oakwell that a change was necessary.

I covered the 3rd Round of the FA Cup (with Budweiser – which is what you’re supposed to say) in this post at the start of last month, so there’s probably no need to go over the same ground today. The only televised game involving a Championship team this weekend is when Newcastle visit Brighton at lunchtime (ITV, 12:30pm) but given the lack of sustained success in the competition by second tier teams in the last few seasons, a couple of upsets by sides further down the league and one team in the quarter finals will probably be the highlight this year.

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Blackburn Get Rid Of Henning Berg

In what appears to be becoming a two horse race in the competition to become the most dysfunctional team in the Championship, Blackburn Rovers have sacked Henning Berg less than 24 hours after Nottingham Forest showed Sean O’Driscoll the door.

To be fair to Blackburn, they were front runners anyway – with Venky’s having eventually caved in to fan pressure to remove Steve Kean despite a good start to the season and replaced him with a manager with no experience outside the bottom half of the Norwegian Eliteserien. I’m beginning to wonder if the owners actually thought they were getting Ole-Gunnar Solksjaer rather than Henning Berg, but the point is moot now.

I’d imagine the front runners to replace both of the latest casualties would include Mark Hughes, Owen Coyle and Alan Curbishley but what do I know? I just blog about the Championship every week and made my opinions about both Berg and O’Driscoll (and here) clear either before or shortly after they’d been appointed. For what it’s worth, I think the best appointment made since the start of the season is Mick McCarthy at Ipswich.

Update: Alex McLeish was appointed Forest manager this evening. He’s not managed in the Championship for four seasons and is – statistically speaking – Aston Villa’s worst ever manager. Here we go again: if the Al Hasawi family want to spend one season in the Premier League and have a good run in the Capital One Cup, then McLeish could be the right choice.

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